Outside, a few snowflakes fall. January isn't sangria season, but every Thursday night Lotus offers up the stuff at two bucks a pop. With the wallet light after the holidays, we wouldn't pass up such a deal if we were stripped naked in an igloo.
Lotus serves their sangria in a small highball with a short straw. The bored and/or pensive can use the straw to spin around the ice. It's a subtler version of the mating ritual. She spins on her stool. We spin our ice. She spins, we spin. She doesn't notice; we're sitting in a comfy high-backed chair on the other side of the bar. It looks like a throne, and we would like to think that we're a king, and the few dozen people before us are a band of jesters. With a wave of the hand and a gruff "Begone!" they would vanish, and we would be alone with the sangria and the music. But we're not here to mate. We're here to relax, to be entertained.
If you haven't yet been to Lotus, which opened last year in the space formerly occupied by Lo, you're missing St. Louis' most elegant lounge. Where the windowless Lo seemed like an Asian speakeasy, Lotus, with its wall of glass overlooking 15th Street, is more inviting. Patrons are greeted with a world of many-sized mirror balls we counted 24 that dangle from the tin ceiling like an overpopulated galaxy. An enormous rococo chandelier hangs above the bar, its shadow projected on a wall to beautiful effect. Fancy chairs and triangular stools pepper the space larger by half than Lo was and by midnight the place is full. Who can resist two-dollar sweetness?
There are as many different ways to make sangria as there are squares on a mirror ball. The basic method is to steep fruit in wine; as the blend sits, the ingredients meld into a stew of sweetness. Add some brandy for another layer of depth. Lotus bartender Samira makes hers with a mess of ingredients: merlot is the base wine, which she augments with a splash of amaretto, another of Captain Morgan spiced rum, a touch of brandy, cranberry juice, Sprite and soda water. The result is a wicked-strong sangria. For eight bucks a king could get shitfaced. The couple is still spinning, but the novelty is wearing off. Now they seem to be doing it in lieu of conversation. They're downing sangria as if it's grape Kool-Aid. Pretty soon they'll be spinning without the stools. That moment will be equally entertaining. They'll wobble and dance, wobble and dance, like monkeys on ether.